Friend or foe: Are DARPA contracts an ethical way of funding flagship status?

University should not focus on government defense contracts not worth the money, work required

Plain and simple, money will lead to flagship status.

The funds collected to support research and the products, both monetary and intellectual, are key in evaluation.

The 2007 report from those who bestow the status said, ‘In The Center for Measuring University Performance, our focus on the Top American Research Universities shows that the fundamental requirement for research university success is money.’

The report goes on to say, ‘University research is a product sold below cost to its primary consumers. Successful research universities find alternative, secondary consumers of research success who will pay the difference between the cost of research and the compensation provided by direct research sponsors in exchange for a wide range of benefits.’

‘ Contracting out to a university rather than other institutes can have massive cost reductions. Not only does private industry take this opportunity, government does as well. Government funding for research has a large element in defense.

Research schools have been used under contracts through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. In the 1950s, Massachusetts Institute of Technology was given a contract to create an early-warning missile detection system. A network was necessary to carry the information, spawning the idea in the minds of the scientists that eventually came to be known as the Internet.’ ‘

Within the field, DARPA contracts are known to raise more conscientious scientists. Most research is subjected to review by institutional review boards for ethics. DARPA contracts are not included in these reviews. Also, DARPA blocks government transparency by releasing little info, as they should when dealing with defense.

So the only real issue to wonder about is legacy. Albert Einstein helped built the atomic bomb. To many people worldwide, this is thought to be his crowning achievement when actually he hated the power it bestowed upon its owner. He sought to regulate the use and possession of the technology. Review boards are meant to help ensure research benefits humanity.

However, our university should work on things other than defense. Despite the sums of money involved in DARPA contracts, the Center for Measuring University Performance said, ”hellip;the federal government provides large amounts of funding for research products that serve national goals, but almost never pays close to the full cost of the research it sponsors.’

These contracts set our rank back rather than advancing it. As we move toward flagship status, the University should stick to private industry and to limit the role of government in higher education.

– Abdul Khan

Contract funds are appealing, but moral consequences should be considered

Most Americans like to think about military vs. education as oppositional, as we see with the Obey Giant poster, ‘More Militerry, Less Skools.’ There is, however, a third option: the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Basically, the Department of Defense, sometimes referred to as the ‘military,’ contracts with universities to develop new technology for itself. These contracts are great sources of revenue for said universities. UH, in its quest to reach flagship status, would benefit greatly from a venture with DARPA.

Created in 1958 as a response to the former Soviet Union’s surprise launch of Sputnik, DARPA’s mission ‘is to maintain the technological superiority of the U.S. military and prevent technological surprise from harming our national security by sponsoring revolutionary, high-payoff research bridging the gap between fundamental discoveries and their military use,’ according to its Web site.

Extra funding, plus getting to help our country – could there be a catch? A moral one perhaps?

During the Vietnam War, DARPA contracted many universities and private companies to develop weapons such as napalm, the jelly-like gasoline used in Vietnam as a weapon. Students at many universities were outraged that private companies were recruiting new employees on campus and, of course, outraged that their universities were involved with DARPA to begin with. Riots broke out, students were restrained and the fire was fanned.

But if UH doesn’t take money from DARPA, some other school will. With little to no opposition, mostly because of the student body’s lack of interest in campus matters coupled with how conservative we all are here in Houston, UH could be the perfect breeding ground for the next big weapon of defense.

Yet, a couple of questions remain. How important is it that UH becomes a flagship university and how quickly do we need to get there?

President Renu Khator, in her investiture speech last November, made it clear it was her top priority, saying that to ‘dream anything less is to shortchange our students, our region and our state.’

UH needs to stop attempting to stroke its own ego with this flagship business and instead focus on excellent teaching, standing out in community engagement through internships, partnerships and study abroad programs.

If flagship status comes with accomplishing said goals, fantastic. If not, UH is still a much better institution for these achievements.

In the mean time, bring the funds, DARPA. We need some new computers.

– Matthew Keever

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